Jamie, 28, Australia
Even if Jamie’s friends fully accepted his different sexual orientation, his religious parents could not cope with it right away. “My friends took it well and it was a massive weight lifted off my shoulders, but it took awhile for my parents to deal with it. I certainly wouldn’t feel as comfortable in my rural hometown as I do here, because people there are not as open and tolerant of gay people,” says 28-year-old Australian Jamie.
When he was 18, he moved to Warsaw, Poland, where he volunteered as an English teacher for a year. “A few years later I moved to Prague for an international exchange program at Charles University. If I compare the two places, Polish people are warmer and more welcoming than Czechs, at least on the surface. It took six months to really break through and make Czech friends in Prague. On the other hand, people here are less judgmental and religious than in Poland. Czechs are more tolerant, but I didn’t really expect it to be as tolerant as it is,” he explains.
“Tolerance is important, but tolerance is still not enough. Rights are about much more than just tolerance, and there is still much to fight for. For this reason I think organizations such as Prague Pride remain a necessity,” adds Jamie.
Lars grew up in Málaga in Andalucía. He does not look like a typical guy from Andalucía at all! His mother came to hot Spain from Denmark. “I like the Czech Republic because it is compromise between energetic Spain and very quiet Denmark,” says Lars who moved to the Czech capital three year ago. “Always I wanted to go to Prague and when I was finally here in 2008 for holiday I realized it is the place I’d love to live. In 2012 I found a job in Prague.”
“Czechs do not care that much about gays, the Spanish are more likely to react on the streets when seeing a gay couple kissing for example. It is the main difference, Czechs are more calm,” says Lars of his adopted homelands. On the other hand the Spanish legal system is more liberal. Spanish gays can marry and have the same right as heterosexuals do. Prime minister Zapatero changed the Spanish system.
“He did a lot for gay community in Spain. I think your family is very important in Spain. In Andalucía, the society is quite traditional but at the same time open. It was needed to strenghten power of the Church in country that was fought from Arabs back in the times of Conquista. Anyway the cultures mixed in here and Spain is a very open country, it is not like Italy,” says Lars about Southern European countries. In Italy, gays still face large discrimination.
Almost 10 years ago Luke moved from the U.S. to Prague. He had already come out when he arrived to the Czech Republic. “My coming out wasn´t fantastic. My family is quite religious and conservative, but over time they have grown to accept it. I think, that it was also due to my brother – he is gay too and he came out after me. We didn´t talk for a few months, but now, we are close.”
Luke points out that coming out is easier in Denver (where he used to live) than in Prague because the gay community is larger there, and offers more support groups and activities.
“My family is Mormon and I was part of a group of ex-Mormon gays. It was helpful to talk to them, knowing they probably had similar problems.”
Although a policeman once called him “buzna” Luke says he was surprised by the gay friendly milieu of Prague. “All I knew about the Czech Republic was beer. I didn´t know that Prague was such a gay-friendly place before I moved here. I would not say I was afraid of any prejudices. I was a bit cautious in the beginning, but quickly felt comfortable,” he adds.
Robin moved to Prague from San Francisco, California with her Czech partner a year and a half ago. “I came to Prague from the most gay friendly City in the U.S. I have found Prague very tolerant of gay people, but for the families of Czech gays things can be different.” Robin has found that often the families of her Czech gay friends do not want their adult children to tell other people in their villages that they are gay. They do not understand how much this hurts their child, no matter how old they are.
“It is not much different in the U.S. for gays who live in parts of the U.S. that are against gay people.” Robin believes having more gay people who are out and proud will make a difference in how everyone views gay people in society. Already in the U.S. she has seen a change with more gay characters on TV and in movies.
Robin worked with Out and Equal, an organization in the U.S. that supports LGBT employees in corporations. She is hopeful that companies in the Czech Republic will recognize the value of creating a workplace where people feel free to be themselves and be openly gay at work.
One night Steve gave his family a letter. “A letter which I edited periodically over several months and which grew to 11 pages,” he remembers. Then he left the house for a drive into the foothills around the city, giving them time to read the letter and to digest its contents. Steve is from a Mormon family from Albuquerque, New Mexico. It took time for him to come out. When he got back home he realized that everybody was supportive and expressed their acceptance of him. “I sometimes do wish that I had had the courage to tell them earlier,” adds Steve.
Now Steve lives in Prague where he came to live in 2008 after working in the UK for 4 years. “It was difficult to leave London where it sometimes felt like half of the city was gay. “I was reluctant to live behind the former iron curtain but the professional opportunity (and expat salary) were just too good to pass up,“ says Steve. Because he did not speak Czech well, “it’s quite likely that homophobic phrases or behaviors have simply gone right over my head,” he smiles.
“All kidding aside, I really do feel very comfortable living as an openly gay man in Prague. It has not been a hardship in any way. I don’t feel the need to hide my sexuality and I’m surprised that so many Czech men do still choose to live closeted lives,” Steve adds.
Comparing the gay scene in Prague to Dallas where Steve used to live before moving to Europe he wonders why Prague’s gay community is very youth-oriented. “Where are all the gay Czech men in their 50’s anyway?”
Willem, The Netherlands
Willem comes from one of the most LGBT tolerant countries in the world, the Netherlands, so his coming out was fairly easy. “I was 18 and I was mainly worried about the reaction of my school and university friends. Fortunately they took it easy and it was a big relief to finally be open about myself,” says Willem who lives in Prague with his Czech husband.
Now Willem is almost 45 years old and has lived in Prague for 5 years with his partner. As an out gay man he has never had negative experiences because of his sexuality in Prague. “However, to be gay in the Czech countryside can still be a serious problem. For example, the father of my partner comes from a small town in Silesia. He has big difficulties about his son being gay and often talks negatively about that. At first he also didn’t want to meet me and when he finally did, he hardly dared to look at me. Fortunately, our relationship is slowly getting better,” he ads.
Therefore Willem thinks that gay and lesbians in Czech villages have more difficult lives than in Dutch ones. “I think the main difference is that gays and lesbians in The Netherlands are accepted all over the country, not only in the big cities. Even in small villages they don’t need to hide their sexuality and they also come out more at a younger age. On the other hand, the situation is getting better thanks to organizations like Prague Pride which increase the visibility of our community,” explains Willem.
Prague Pride week starts August 10; its organizers welcome all to join in this citywide celebration of the diversity of life. For more information visit www.praguepride.cz